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Ole! Hong Kong embraces Spanish culture

HONG KONG, June 18 (Reuters) - Whether it's the passionate beat of Flamenco, the exotic taste of tapas or the earthy kick of a glass of Rioja wine, Spanish culture is finding a new home in Hong Kong.

Many in this largely wealthy Chinese territory are giving a resounding "ole!" to anything Spanish these days, prompting an explosion of high-end tapas bars, dance and guitar classes and food and wine tastings over the past few months.

"We feel the Spanish people are full of passion and full of colour. It's very exotic to us," said Ling Tsang, a diner at the Ole Spanish restaurant and wine bar.

The love affair with Spain appears to be a result of an aggressive push by the European nation to make inroads into China, a global economic giant with a growing, and increasingly Westernised, class of newly rich.

Chinese and Spanish leaders have exchanged visits recently and the number of direct flights between the two countries has also increased.

This April marked the end of the "Year of Spain" cultural, business and sporting fiesta in China and Spanish diplomats were last year quoted by China's official news agency as saying their government had earmarked over $900 million to boost commerce, tourism and investment with Beijing.


Carmelo Lopez, the owner of Ole restaurant, does his part for promoting Spain on a daily basis, serving his mainly Chinese clientele authentic Spanish dishes cooked by Spanish chefs while guitar players croon popular Spanish songs.

"Our cuisine is very healthy because we use only olive oil for cooking," Lopez said.

"We don't cover things with sauces. We use some wine for cooking as well, and it interests a lot of Chinese people."

At one of a dozen dance studios that have recently cropped up in Hong Kong, women stamp their feet to the vigorous beat of Flamenco, swaying their bodies to the sensual, and for many students unusual, music.

"I love the costume. I love the passions and I think the music is quite special. It's different from ballet. It's different from jazz, which I've studied before," said Gigi Yu, one of the students who attends the once-a-week class.

Spanish wine is also pouring into China, and especially thirsty Hong Kong, which recently slashed import duties.

At an international wine expo last month, crowds gathered around a section dedicated to Spanish wine while local connoisseurs sampled reds and whites at a tasting course.

Wine buyers say Spanish wines are luring Chinese drinkers partly due to their reasonable price.

But Vicente Taberner Carsi, president of Spanish wine estate Huerta de Albala, believes the attraction stems from a more profound, cultural connection.

"Both have a lot of passion, a lot of feeling and it could be why they are so drawn to Spanish culture, the same way as Spanish people are interested in Asian culture or Chinese culture," he told Reuters Television.
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